Saturday, 12 April 2014

Why I disagree with Jeremy

I'm not an economic Liberal by nature. That much is probably obvious from my initial reaction to the Coalition. To say I was mildly disturbed by going into Government with the Tories is to put it extremely mildly.

I'm from an old Labour background, and I tend towards the Social Liberal wing of the Party. When I took a silly quiz about policies around the time of the election, the answers suggested that I should be in the Green Party.

So it will come as no surprise that I disagree with Jeremy Browne on both the direction of the party and also on quite a few policy areas. That however is not our substantive area of disagreement as of today.

Jeremy Browne has, it seems, questioned the need for the current form of the Liberal Democrats. His argument that a moderating centrist party isn't needed in British politics fails to capture for me the reason why the Party exists.

Circumstances may have forced us to mitigate the worst excesses of the Conservatives, and may well have made our message as a Party less resonant, but that's a practical and not an ideological consideration. For me, that's why he's wrong.

Nobody should join a political party solely on the basis of practical considerations. The Liberal Democrats, and every other Party, exist as a reflection of an ideological standpoint on how we approach the big questions in society.

The presence of an ideological standpoint, that for me is routed in the famous quote by John Stuart Mill (see below), is the sole reason why the Liberal Democrats should exist and would be invented were they not already in existence. 

Admittedly there are plenty of people who join a Party because of its current policies, and that's fine. They're the people who jump ship at the drop of a proverbial hat, whether it's because they disagree with policy or find a closer fit elsewhere.

In our first past the post, winner takes all system, they are the life's blood of politics. As party members, or as voters, they allow the country to shift gently from left to right to suit the current prevailing winds of change. 

The Liberal Democrats are part of that system, and that gentle shift, but we're about more than that. We're about the framing of the question, the framing of every question. That's why, like all the major parties, we exist.

So Jeremy Browne is wrong. We are needed, we would be invented, and we will continue to exist, not matter how much the prevailing political winds may batter us. We are the ideological home of maximum freedom for individuals at minimum cost to others.  

So don't despair, simply read the preamble to our constitution and remember this quote:

"The only part of the conduct of anyone for which he is amenable to society is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign."

We may disagree on the answers, and that may make political life difficult, but one thing we can all agree on is how to frame the questions. That's why we're relevant, why we're needed, why we exist, and why Jeremy Browne is wrong.

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